The St. James boys basketball team saw their spectacular season come to an end when they faced off against Charleston in the State Quarterfinals on Saturday, Mar. 2. After a strong first quarter, the Tigers couldn't keep up with Charleston in an 81-64 loss.
Andrew Branson was spectacular for St. James on Saturday and that started in the first quarter. The junior scored the first points of the game and scored all but four of St. James' points in the opening frame. Charleston had a six point run to put St. James on their heels early in the quarter, but the Tigers were able to lock the game at 10 on a basket from Logan Chick. Branson finished the first quarter with 10 points, as St. James went into the second leading 14-12.
After a strong start for the Tigers, just about everything went wrong in the second. Senior Tyler Recker picked up his third foul quickly in the quarter, so he was forced to spend a long stretch on the bench. That opened the door for Charleston to take over. The Jays opened the quarter on a 17-3 run, as the Tigers couldn't find an answer to their mix of size inside and outside shooting. Charleston maintained a comfortable lead for most of the quarter, scoring at the buzzer to take a 40-26 lead into the half.
Charleston kept rolling early in the quarter, stretching their lead out to 54-31 midway through the quarter. Branson tried to will St. James back into the game with an incredible run after that. He started by knocking down a three, his first of three in the quarter. Branson single-handedly went on an 11-4 run over the next two minutes, scoring a total of 13 points in the quarter. That run helped St. James get as close as 58-42, but they couldn't get any closer than that in the frame. Charleston scored the final eight points of the quarter to take a 66-42 lead into the fourth.
St. James kept fighting in the fourth, but they couldn't close the gap. Branson scored another nine points, while Recker added seven in the quarter, but the deficit was too much to overcome as Charleston finished off an 81-64 win.
Branson was spectacular for the Tigers in the loss, scoring 38 points to go along with a team-high five rebounds. The 38-point performance is the third highest scoring performance for St. James in the last 40 years for the Tigers. He finished the season with 671 points, the most points for a Tiger in over four decades. He also had the third most steals in school history on the season with 78. Head coach Ben Smith was impressed with his play all season and hopes that the other coaches in the state took notice.
"I think anybody that watched this game should recognize the tremendous season he's had. He's worthy of those honors," said coach Smith. "He was outstanding tonight again."
It's impossible to overlook just how great a season St. James had. As a team, they scored more points than any St. James team in this century and set a team record for threes in a season with 214. Branson hit 53 of those, while Austin Ridenhour hit 44 and Logan Chick hit 47. While Branson was third on the list for most steals in a season, Mason Parker was one spot ahead of him with 82 despite missing four games, tying the school record for steals in a game along the way. He also had 106 assists and 97 rebounds on the season. The State Quarterfinal run is just another example of how great their season was. Coach Smith knows his boys will be able to look back at this season and see how special it was.
"I told them in the locker room that should hold their heads up high. You made your school proud, you made your town proud, you made your families proud and you made your coach proud. I couldn't be more proud of this group of kids, facing the adversity that they faced all year, just to keep battling back to get here. What an accomplishment," said Smith. "While it stings now, they'll be able to look back in a week or two and be like 'holy cow, what a run.' It just gets fonder as they get further away from it. It's a great experience. This community was incredible. It's awesome to see how basketball can bring everything together."